Why Should You Read Lerone Bennett, Jr.?


“Every black person is obligated,” he said, “to try to do what he does as well as any person who ever lived can do it, or any person who ever lives can do it; then, to try to save one — just one — person if you can. And then to struggle to destroy a system which is multiplying black victims faster than all the black intellectuals and the black leaders in America can talk about. I see those three things connected.” These are the words of Lerone Bennett, Jr., an American icon who died in Chicago on February 16, 2018 at age 89. This is what he called a three-part approach to affecting change.

Mr. Bennett was a prolific author and journalist. He was a historian. He was a top editor at Ebony Magazine for decades. Among his works are the books Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America and Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream. The Lincoln booked showed him to be a White Supremacist at a time when most White Americans were. In 1954 he also wrote the article Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren. That was about the 20th-century lives of individuals claiming descent from Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. This relationship was long denied but DNA testing in 1998 confirmed it.

These are among the works that scholars have written since the Civil Rights era began about the history of Black Americans. The Unpaid Labor Project uses works like these to tell the story of contribution. The contribution of the first 12 generations of Black people was vital to the birth, growth and survival of the United States of America.

We at the Unpaid Labor Project share common cause with Mr. Bennett. He wrote to express a more accurate view of American and African American history. He understood that myths and nostalgia are not history. He understood that a fuller view of people in our history like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in relation to racial slavery is needed. It is necessary to affecting much needed change. He understood the importance of abolishing the lie of White Supremacy. He understood that an accurate view of our history is necessary to healing the festering boil of race in America.

We salute Lerone Bennett, Jr. He made his life count. He practiced the three-part approach to affecting change that he preached. He acknowledged the contribution of African Americans. He wrote to abolish the falsehood of racial inferiority and superiority. His works support national racial reconciliation on the basis of historic truth. To that we say well done and thank you.